Entry 3 – Chicago
- About a month ago, Summer 2028
Chicago wasn’t my first destination of choice. Or the second one. Or third. But the plane tickets were cheap and the rent, well... suffice to say if you’re willing to live on the same block with some colorful characters, you can survive there for peanuts. As long as you’re fine with food deserts (so those peanuts just might be literal). I landed with all my possessions in one duffel bag and a thinning bundle of cash in my pocket. My saving grace was Hector, another foster home brat from way back when. I didn’t make many friends as a kid but you know what they say – there’s an exception to every rule. Luckily, Hector recognized me and welcomed me like a long-lost brother to his little fold.
Being a part of Hector’s world was just like being in Chicago. Not my first choice. But he did help with getting food on my table and a place to stay. Without other prospects, I was grateful for what I had. Until that one day when it all changed.
The memory’s still vivid in my mind, as if it happened an hour ago.
That morning started just like any other. It was still early but the heat reflected by all that concrete surrounding the flat I was living in was already creeping in. A few hours more and it would become unbearable. Chicago summer’s anything but pleasant.
The whole building has seen better days. On the other hand, in the “better days”, it would have likely already been condemned. At least there were no bugs in the shower and no mold in the fridge. My idle musings were interrupted by the sound of my phone ringing. One glance at the cell’s screen sank my mood even lower. Hector’s been pushing me lately to involve me in his business, not something I was keen on doing. Then again, I reminded myself, beggars can’t be choosers and two months of lying low have chipped away more than just my pride.
“Hi there, Hector.”
Yeah, that was my best unconcerned voice impression. He knew what was up, I knew what was up, but that’s the way the game’s played. Me being a grumpy asshole would hardly do me any good.
“Hola, amigo! Que pasa!”
Again with this Mexican bullshit. Hector was a third generation American, Chicago born and bred, a self-stylized member of the local “mafía”, a little king of a little hill fighting other scavengers for scraps. He didn’t even look the part but his desperate need to connect to something – his family’s distant heritage, roots, anything – made him act this way. Sad, really. But he had his ten fat fingers in a lot of pies and I needed a gig so I was willing to indulge him.
“Nothing much. Got anything for me?”
A chuckle on the other end.
“Nah man,” I sighed. “Dubai really messed things up for me.”
And now he’d lecture me about my mess.
“Ayyyy, I heard about that. Couple of cabrones messed up really bad, sí? Bad for business, that. But not you, my friend. You stayed straight as an arrow. Walked away. Now, I can respect that.”
So that’s how it was. That meant he really needed something from me, otherwise he’d have rubbed my face in it, but he knew I had my limits. Now this was starting to get interesting. Either he needed someone at least remotely respectable – and I looked very respectable in a tux – or he needed a fall guy. Didn’t seem like the second case though. He had cheaper and easier to convince options. I decided to cut to the chase.
“Yeah, you know how it is. You turn away for a second and someone always fucks you over. But, to be honest...” I paused, “Fuck those guys, really. So, what can this down-on-luck merc do for you?”
He grew serious. So serious, in fact, he even lost some of the accent shtick he loved so much.
“So, listen. There’s a rich corp looking for a merc. One merc, to show their boys the ropes. Nothing major. A company’s worth of infantry, some armor. Or, as a matter of fact,” he paused, “that would be the first job. To pick up the right tools for the forces you’d then take command of. Tanks, lieutenants, you know the drill. Drag them through the mud a few times, shoot some bandits in the Texas wastes, a little survival training in Alaska...”
Indeed, I knew the drill. Something like that always happened when a corporation was ready to expand, discreetly. Someone expected to get their hands on a lot of wealth or power real quick and couldn’t go through the official channels. Such jobs have always been really rare at the best of times as they came with a lot of strings attached and a lot of expectations. Corporations typically wouldn’t trust a random small-time merc with their secrets, even one with experience such as me.
“....and then they’ll give you a proper flat, you’ll marry a nice pencil pusher girl with a career, have kids... you know, everything people like us don’t get a have. So whaddya say, partner?”
And now he’s switching to Texas drawl. God, kill me now. Just when I thought we’d have a normal conversation for once. Regardless, the feeling of unease didn’t subside. Not one bit. I wasn’t sure what to think, so I decided to play for time.
“Don’t know, Hector. I mean... why me, you’ve got your own people.”
Laughter on the other end. Sounded a tiny bit forced. Just a bit, but the hint was there.
*“You want me to send my crooks to a corp tango? Anyway, they wouldn’t know how to behave and they hate suits. They’re not...” *
“Civilized. Like you and me.”
I laid myself down on the bed, my left arm behind my head. Closed my eyes, taking a moment to collect my thoughts and realized I was missing something really obvious.
“How do you even know about all this? And don’t give me that ‘word on the street’ bullshit, Hector. I mean, no offense, but you don’t usually get the opportunity to work for a bona fide corp. I mean real work, without getting our hands really, REALLY dirty. And I’m not that kind of guy, you know that.”
Several seconds of silence, followed by a poorly concealed sigh.
“Alright, fine. Someone came by. A really classy-looking chica. First, she knew where to find me so that got me thinking, you know? Second, she knew all sorts of mierda she wasn’t supposed to know. The kind you can’t ignore. So, uh, we made a deal. She was interested in you, specifically. Even knew where you lived. How weird is that?”
“How long ago was that?”
“Couple of hours.”
Okay, at least some good news. If this was a set-up, I’d already be dead. Not a payback from my old pals then.
“Why didn’t you start with that?”
“Didn’t wanna scare you off. Nothing gets by you though, am I right? She left some instructions, if you want. Either way, she seemed fo’ real so either you made some powerful friends you didn’t tell me about somewhere along the way, or... I don’t know. So how about it?”
I sighed and closed my eyes. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
“Yeah, I’m listening.”
And that’s how the whole damned thing started.